ZIGZAG — Government agents have pulled the plug on the search that began last week for the cougar that killed a 55-year-old hiker, as government agents believe the adult female cougar they shot and killed Friday is the right one.
Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife officials announced the search's end in a news release today.
The animal was killed Friday, Sept. 14 after it walked in front of a remote camera that had been installed a few feet from where Diana Bober's backpack was found, located on the Hunchback Mountain Trail, a remote area in the Mount Hood National Forest. Federal wildlife agents deployed hounds in the area, which picked up the cat's scent. The party trailed the cougar until it ran up a tree. Agents shot and killed it at about 3 p.m.
"It is highly probable that the cougar that killed Diana is the one that we killed last week," said ODFW's Derek Broman, the agency's carnivore coordinator. Bober was last seen on Aug. 29 but her body was not found until Sept. 10.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Wildlife Forensics Lab in Ashland analyzed evidence from the cougar's body, but lab scientists were not able to extract "any relevant DNA" from evidence collected at the scene that could be compared to the killed cougar's DNA. Officials said contamination of evidence at the attack site contributed to the difficulty, as several days had passed between the initial attack and the discovery of Bober's body. Heavy rain also fell during the interim.
"The evidence is too contaminated for us to ever be able to tie it to an individual cougar," Wildlife Forensics lab director Ken Goddard said in the release.
Despite the lack of DNA, scientists pointed to several factors that make them think they got the right animal. It was detected on a trail camera right at the site where the attack occurred.
"Over the past week, no other cougar has been detected in the area," the release says.
Officials also point to cougars' territorial nature. While males typically have sizable home ranges — anywhere from 50 to 150 square miles in size — a female cat's home range is typically 20 to 30 square miles. The 31 trail cameras officials set were at the attack site and expanded outward to a 35-square mile area around it.
"No other cougar was ever detected on this network of 31 cameras set on trails, wildlife corridors, saddles and other areas where cougars are likely to travel, adding to the evidence that the cougar responsible was killed on Friday," the release reads.
The female cougar was also "several" years old. By that age, the animals have established a home range, officials said.
Cougar attacks on humans are rare, with fewer than 30 fatal attacks recorded in more than a century in the West and Canada. Bober is the first known person in Oregon to be killed by a cougar.
The U.S. Forest Service hopes to reopen the area closed during the initial hunt for the cougar as early as Monday, Sept. 24. It will be announced on the Mt. Hood National Forest website, https://www.fs.usda.gov/mthood.